Walls adorned with red, plush fabric filled with impressions of mummified bodies set the eerily gleeful atmosphere for the show as one descends the stairs to the theater. The audience encircles the three-quarter thrust main stage area, which at first contains blocked-off seats filled by Phantoms clad in S&M/goth/punk-inspired fashion. (These Phantoms represent the show's Transylvanians.)
Just as you start to examine the contents of your Rocky Horror party bag, the band hits some power chords and the Phantoms explode into movement as luscious Usherette Daphne Rubin-Vega (of Rent fame) enters the scene; it's an absolute joy to hear her breathy rendition of "Science Fiction Double Feature." Just when you think the number can't get any better, Rubin-Vega is joined by fellow Usherette Joan Jett, flashlight in hand. The Phantoms turn their attention to a silver screen up front, where Janet Weiss (Side Show's voluptuous Alice Ripley) enters hand in hand with Brad Majors (Damn Yankees' Jarrod Emick). Brad and Janet literally walk off the screen, and their transsexual adventure begins.
The casting of this show is dead-on perfect. Dick Cavett brings an unexpected, wry coolness to the narrator role; ad-libbing at just the right moments, he offers witty quips on a variety of subjects. (For example: "Someone asked me during intermission: 'So Dick, did you get it on with Joan Jett, yet?' Yes... but she wasn't there.") Jett brings a hard rock sensibility and a kick-ass attitude to the role of Columbia; instead of dancing in the "Time Warp" number, she launches into a powerful guitar solo. As Eddie, Lea DeLaria is a presence to rival Meat Loaf. Sebastian LaCause (Minnelli on Minnelli) has the voice and the muscles for Rocky, while Raúl Esparza (Che in the 20th-anniversary national tour of Evita) plays a slick Riff Raff, ripping dimensional barriers with his high notes in "Over at the Frankenstein Place" and "The Time Warp." He and his radiant sister, Magenta, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega in a double assignment (come see Daphne dressed in a French maid outfit and other sexy garments!), provide an impressive foil to Dr. Frank 'N' Furter.
Speaking of Frankie, Tom Hewitt lights up every scene he's in with transsexual charisma. Wickedly vibrant, he seduces all into checking out "what's on the slab." His lip curls, snarls, and pithy comebacks to audience members make us shiver with anticipation.
As a fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was delighted to see Hedwig understudy Kevin Cahoon playing one of the Phantoms. (Yitzak understudy Kristen Lee Kelly is a Rocky Horror swing, so if one of the principals catches a cold, Hedwig fans are in for a real treat!) There was some question as to exactly how much audience participation there would be in this production, but fear not; there is enough to sate even the rowdiest of Rocky fans. The well-prepared cast members know just how to react to the inside comments shouted out by the faithful. Those party bags previously mentioned are on sale for a steep $10 before the show; if you want to save a few bucks, the contents include a mini-flashlight, a newspaper, toast, playing cards, and confetti.
The Rocky Horror Show has found the Tao of Musicals with its sexy balance of savvy casting, vibrant costumes, ingenious sets, and a top-notch band. If there's anything to bitch about, it's the show's $50-80 ticket prices, which make it hard for this reviewer to get a rowdy group of his poor college buddies to attend. Those of you who are not financially disadvantaged should ignore the New York Times' snobby review of a production that will definitely titillate longtime Rocky fans as well as virgins. Get your tickets now, before this awesome cast time warps away!